Parks, Play, and People: Equity and Community in Recreation

by Missy Benson, ASLA

The joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Parks & Recreation Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) in Philadelphia / image: EPNAC
The joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Parks & Recreation Professional Practice Networks (PPNs) in Philadelphia / image: EPNAC

The 2018 Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN Meeting in Review

The ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO’s joint meeting of the Children’s Outdoor Environments and Parks & Recreation Professional Practice Networks (PPNs), which offered attendees 1.0 PDH, focused on the topic of “Parks, Play, and People: Equity and Community in Recreation” with short presentations by, from left right in the photo above: Joy Kuebler, ASLA, Joy Kuebler Landscape Architect, PC; Andrew Spurlock, FASLA, Spurlock Landscape Architects; and Diane Jones Allen, ASLA, The University of Texas at Arlington and DesignJones, LLC. (For a recap of all PPN events that took place during the meeting, see the overall PPN Live in Review Field post.)

We measure success at our events when we have a great turnout of people interested in our topics—and indeed we had standing room only during our joint event in Philadelphia! Children’s Outdoor Environments PPN leadership was well represented among the 70+ attendees (and several attendees also signed up to join the PPN leadership team!). Here is a summary of the three presentations that took place.

Diane Jones Allen spoke about “The Challenge of Park Equity in Communities with Environmental Challenges,” including Sankofa Wetland Park in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. Diane explained the technique “Mining the Indigenous” as described in Design as Democracy to bring together community knowledge typically overlooked and left unmined, to the detriment of projects. For example, local residents shared extensive knowledge of the Bayou Bienvenue Wetland Triangle from childhoods spent in these wetlands. Contributions from locals provided a better understanding of the fauna, including alligators, snakes, and insects, and flora, such as edible plants and the historical uses of existing vegetation. Diane described examples of bio-retention facilities designed to alleviate neighborhood flooding during heavy rainfall, with native vegetation and walking paths to promote educational and recreational opportunities for community residents and other users.

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Pop-Up Playspaces Become Permanent Playspaces to Create Healthier and Happier Communities

by Missy Benson, ASLA

image: Playworld

Play is transformative and essential for us to thrive. Unique pop-up play areas can show us how to bring everyone together and live more playful lives. A new book about play describes how this is possible. Just published by the Design Museum Foundation, Design & Play is based on the nationally-traveling exhibit Extraordinary Playscapes and explores playground design, the importance of play to childhood development and social equity.

I am thrilled to be part of this book and to share this story. Two years ago, I was part of the exhibit team to provide a pop-up playspace in Chinatown Park, one of the parks created by Boston’s Big Dig project, called the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Designed by Carol R. Johnson Associates, Chinatown Park contains the Chinatown Gate, which both towers over a flurry of commuter and tourist activity, and provides a gateway into this culturally rich community.

Chinatown Park is full of activity everyday with groups practicing tai chi and playing chess on outdoor tables. Yet, there was not a place for families to play together until the installation of the pop-up PlayCubes. The pop-up PlayCubes are cuboctahedrons designed by architect Richard Dattner in the early 1960s and redesigned in 2016 by Dattner and Playworld with eight triangular faces and six square faces. Each face has a circular cutout so kids, teens, and adults can climb on top or get inside.

This iconic shape is sculptural and replicates nature—possible reasons why people of all ages are here playing together. As Richard Dattner explains, “PlayCubes are part of nature, albeit on a crystalline or molecular level. Archimedes, Kepler, and others have discovered and re-discovered this form over millennia, but it took Playworld and me to find a way to incorporate play. Stacking spheres ‘naturally’ take this cuboctahedron form, as Bucky Fuller discovered in his investigations.”

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